Time Vampires are needy, thirsty, selfish creatures who, given an opportunity, will suck up all of your time and energy and leave you weak and debilitated. Being able to recognize these vampires on sight is the first step in protecting yourself from them. Being willing to deal with them as you would an evil, blood-sucking creature of the dark is the second step in freeing yourself from them.
Maybe the most insidious of all the Time Vampires is Mr. Have-You-Got-a-Minute? He lurks in the hall outside your office, near the elevator, near the cafeteria, in the bushes next to the parking lot, wherever it’s possible to catch you off guard. If you give in to him a few times, he becomes emboldened and starts “dropping in” your office several times a day, saying “Have you got a minute?” or “I just need a couple minutes of your time” or “I just have one quick question.” This Time Vampire can also drain your time at a distance. Any time this Vampire has a thought or question, he sends an email or texts you.
The temptation to give in to this vampire is almost irresistible. First of all, it just seems easier to deal with his “one quick question” than to put him off and have it hanging over you for later. Second, it feels rude and unreasonable to refuse him. But, the truth is, he deserves no courtesy whatsoever. He’s telling you that your time is less valuable than his, that whatever you’re doing is unimportant and easily interrupted. He’s being disrespectful of you, your time and its value, so go ahead and stick a stake through his heart without a moment’s remorse.
Here’s the stake you can use whether he drops by your office or sends you numerous emails or texts:
I’m busy right now. Let’s meet at 4:00 p.m. for 15 minutes and tackle everything on your list at one time.
This stops this bloodthirsty vampire in his tracks and “teaches” him a new discipline. Of course, he won’t get it right away. But, if you whip out this same stake every time, eventually he will get the message. Someday, he’ll call you and say something like: “I have five things I need to go over with you. When can we get together?” After you pick yourself up off the floor, you can congratulate yourself on having defanged a vampire.
The next most dangerous Time Vampire is Mr. Meeting. Some people seem to do nothing but attend meetings. That’s because being in meetings is a way to feel important. It’s also a great way to hide from making and taking responsibility for decisions.
Before you set up a meeting or accept your next meeting invitation, stop and ask yourself: Do I really need to be in — or hold — this meeting? Is there a more time-efficient way to handle this? A conference call? An email? Anything but another meeting.
If you’re going to hold a meeting, there are several stakes you can use to stop the vampires from making it an endless “blood klatch.”
Set the meeting for immediately before lunch or at the end of the day so the vampires are eager to get it done and over with, turn into bats and fly out of there.
- Don’t serve refreshments. (People can’t talk with their mouths full).
- Circulate a written agenda in advance.
- Have and communicate a clear, achievable objective for the meeting.
If you must attend a meeting, you also have some stakes available so you can slay Mr. Meeting.
First, determine in advance what information you are to contribute, then do it with a prepared, minimum-time, maximum-impact presentation. I don’t mean a formal PowerPoint presentation. Better is one page of facts and a brief narrative that you can speak to without the aid of a series of slides that suck up hours in the making, extend the meeting time and bore people into a quasi-somnambulant state.
Next, have an exit strategy: someone coming in to get you at a certain time, a pre-arranged call on your cell phone, whatever. You can then excuse yourself long enough. Or get a drop-dead end time pre-set for the meeting — the tighter the better.
Another Time Vampire to watch out for is Mr. Trivia. He either can’t or doesn’t want to differentiate between the important and unimportant. This vampire’s talent is getting others off track, getting you to set aside your carefully organized list of priorities in favor of his — and, more often than not, his agenda will be of minimal importance. Mr. Trivia will interrupt to tell you just about anything, ranging from the building being on fire to the office supply store having delivered blue pens instead of black pens. Usually, it’ll be the latter.
The best way to deal with this one is to use a stake to interrupt the interrupter:
I have an exceptionally busy day, so I’m only dealing with 9s and 10s on a one to 10 scale. Everything else MUST wait until tomorrow. Are you convinced that what you want to talk to me about is a nine or 10?
He’ll say, “No, but — ” then you must again rudely interrupt him: “No buts. Thanks. We’ll get to it tomorrow.” Then physically get away. (If he’s in your office, you leave).
He will be offended. But, the odds of him holding the trivial matter over until tomorrow and bringing it back to you are less than 50–50.